We all know them. The constant complainer. The aggressive subtweeter. The uninformed political poster. The people who make our social media experience just a little less pleasant each and every day, clogging up our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds with their daily selfies, Candy Crush updates, and angry rants that belong in their diary. At what point is enough enough? When is it time to push the unfriend/unfollow button?
The New York Times recently published an article titled “And Now, I Unfollow Thee” by Katherine Rosman that explores the etiquette of unfriending and unfollowing. For some people, they worry about being a "jerk" if they unfollow. One woman, Katie Notopoulous, described the sticky situation by saying she felt like she was “breaking this fake friendship” that had developed online if she removed people from her newsfeeds.
Other people in the article did not worry about such things in the least. One man, Noah Masterson, who had just unfollowed 20 people prior to being interviewed, said “it felt really good” to clean out his feed every once in a while. He employed an interesting analogy, saying that social media is a party, a party for which we select the guests. And because it is a party, we retain the right to “eject someone who’s not being a good guest.”
He raises an interesting point. If someone came to our actual party and complained all the time, would we continue to invite them? If someone came around at our party handing out invites to Farmville, would we continue to invite them? Probably not. But maybe we would, if it would be too rude or awkward not to. This is the tough situation social media users find themselves in.
The wider world of the Internet is split on the issue. A quick Google search of the terms ‘unfriend’ and ‘unfollow’ will pull up both sides quickly. On the one hand, there is an abundance of articles about ‘the people you need to unfriend right now.’
Jimmy Kimmel has led the charge of ruthless deleting by christening November 17th “National Unfriend Day,” when he encourages everyone to cleanse their Facebook feeds. He received support from several celebrities, including country artist Brad Paisley, who performed a song entitled “To All the Friends I’ve Un’d Before” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, listing the various reasons people got the boot from his newsfeeds. Worth a listen, even if you firmly believe that it’s unacceptable to “un” a friend.
On the other hand, there are articles that believe unfriending and unfollowing are rude. These articles warn of the incredibly awkward encounters that can ensue if someone realizes they have been deleted. Especially because so many people have apps now that can tell them if people are unfollowing or unfriending them, and some people are simply not afraid to confront you with this information.
So which is it? Is it time to purge our newsfeeds of all the people we can’t stand, or is it too rude and awkward to be worth our time?
As far as unfriending, college students do not appear to be fully on the Jimmy Kimmel full-on-cleanse bandwagon. The students didn’t think it was rude to delete people that they didn’t know that well or didn’t associate with at all, but they as a group thought it was a little riskier when you knew the person and were in regular contact with them.
“If I’m in direct contact with this person a lot, I feel like it would just be kind of weird,” one LSOE sophomore said. The less you know each other, the less awkward the unfriending and becomes, however.
There were several reasons students listed as sufficient basis for deleting people, or reasons that they would consider deleting people for, even if they hadn’t come up yet. Among these were posting really gross photos and videos that people didn’t want on their newsfeeds, people posting about the mundane moments of their everyday lives, people constantly complaining about their personal lives to the general public of the Internet, racist posts, extreme and unfounded political opinions, or generally if they feel like they’re “clearly not someone [they] would associate now with, in any capacity.”
Overall, however, students generally said that they rarely delete people on Facebook. Their reasons were varied. One student said unfriending felt too “permanent," especially if you used to be friends with that person. Several students cited a concern that they would want to know how that person was doing later on, or what they were up to, and they wouldn’t have that option if they deleted them. Some students found even the most annoying, uninformed posters to be somewhat amusing.
“It’s interesting to see that other side,” one MCAS sophomore said of some of her most obnoxious Facebook friends. “My life is so blessed for me to not be trapped in the darkness.”
More than anything, however, students indicated that they simply did not think it was necessary to spend the time unfriending.
“I usually don’t delete people off of Facebook because it’s not relevant. Unless their stuff really bothers me, which it usually doesn’t, I’m just gonna leave it there,” said one MCAS sophomore.
Another student echoed her sentiment, but in regards to following on Twitter and Instagram: “A reason that I wouldn’t unfollow them is just because it doesn’t seem as necessary; if I can just keep scrolling past it, and it’s not directly going to continue to impact me, then there’s no reason to unfollow them.”
Unfollowing, however, was certainly found to be more common than unfriending. Several students described their unfollowing habits as “petty,” because they always unfollowed people who unfollowed them, or had never followed them back. A couple students admitted to having the types of apps that notify them when people aren’t following them, so that they could unfollow them in return. Some said that they were somewhat “hurt” when they noticed that someone wasn’t following them back, which reinforces the one side of the argument that says it’s simply too rude and awkward to unfollow and unfriend people you don’t like hearing from.
Luckily, today in technology they have even developed a tool to help us find that happy medium between not seeing every obnoxious thought our old elementary friends have, and not feeling like a bad person for deleting them. The mute, or unfollow, option on Facebook allows you to hide an individual's posts from your newsfeed.
Katie Notopoulos, from the New York Times article, describes the mute button as a “godsend,” because it allows you to cleanse your feed without feeling like a jerk. Unfortunately, for Twitter and Instagram you’re still on your own with no mute button to save you.
Despite the Times article, the extensive database of Internet articles on the subject, and brief interviews with college students, there isn’t a true consensus about what makes it okay to unfollow or unfriend people. Basically, it comes down to the person. For those of us who don’t have any patience, but also feel like deleting people makes you kind of a jerk, perhaps the mute button is that godsend you have been waiting for.
The Jimmy Kimmels and Noah Mastersons of the world will continue to delete anyone who bothers them in a heartbeat, because it’s their party and they’ll invite who they want to. And the most polite, guilt-ridden among us will just let every last annoying poster remain on their feed because it’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to (cry about the state of their newsfeed, that is).